Article: HR needs to focus on the completeness of the data: Niel Nickolaisen, CTO

HR Analytics

HR needs to focus on the completeness of the data: Niel Nickolaisen, CTO

The Chief Technology Officer of O.C Tanner sheds some light on what HR leaders already know and what they don't know about HR Tech and shares some tips on how they can be better prepared for the future of HR.
HR needs to focus on the completeness of the data: Niel Nickolaisen, CTO

An MIT graduate Niel Nickolaisen has experience in advanced analytics, BI and machine learning, agile software principles and methods, project management and delivery, ERP, CRM, mobile application development, software product development, strategic planning and prioritization, IT operations and ITIL, technology selection and executive leadership. Since 2013 Niel has been working as the Chief Technology Officer in O.C Tanner, where he is responsible for leading the teams that develop and support technology products, client analytics, and corporate systems. 

Based on his experience and knowledge Niel Nickolaisen in an interview with People Matters shared some dos and don’ts for HR leaders and also highlighted how HR could be prepared for the future of HR Tech. 


Here's an excerpt from the interview:

What HR leaders already know and what they don't know about HR Tech? 

Unfortunately, what most of us experience today in terms of HR tech is large legacy HRIS or HCM systems which are designed mostly to perform organizational transactions or are designed for compliance. There systems to take care of functions like Payroll or the ones that help you keep compliant. These tend to be large enterprise systems which are neither flexible nor focused on the employee experience. 

And the biggest trend that I see happening right now in HR tech is a shift from those large enterprise systems towards more smaller, simpler and specialized applications. For instance, for functions like Performance Management System or Learning and Development earlier the softwares were designed for compliance tracking. The systems would only check if somebody has completed the course or not. But now the focus is more on capturing the employee perspective. For instance, what leanings they need, what is vital for their growth. Hence, the tech solutions have now become more employee-centric. Besides this, now advanced technologies like Artificial intelligence and Machine Learning are also emerging. 

Therefore, the new trends that I see in HR tech are the simplification of HR Technology, with more focus on the employee experience and the use of more advanced technologies. 

What are the current technologies that the HR should be aware of?

If I was an HR I would be experimenting with Machine Learning. HR must leverage them and experiment with them for various processes.  By doing a pilot they can access the value they will create by utilizing these solutions. My experience with advanced analytics has been that it helps to identify problem or opportunity we have and then it allows us to see if we have enough data, to build the model.  For instance, if employee attrition is an issue, and you as HR wish to identify the causes of it, you would gather data and try to understand the cause and effect relationship of employee retention and various other factors. The available advanced analytics algorithms can help HR in identifying these causes and additionally, they would also enable HR to understand the correlation between retentions and other factors. Try these solutions and see what different results you can derive from it. Another thing I would suggest would be that do an experiment with the mobile applications.


People and work are moving at a faster pace every day. If HR functions can be made on the go, the employee experience can be enhanced. By making processes like performance management app based even employee-manager relationship can be improved. Use of mobile applications simplifies work, increases productivity, simplifies the process and also makes decision making more data-driven and objective.

How can HR make most of these available solutions?

The most important thing in the case of AI is that the predictive and prescriptive models are accurate if the data is complete. 

So, before HR makes any decision or adopts any technology, they should ensure that the information and content they have is enough. 

Data impacts the success and failures of these solutions, if there are dark spots in the data, then the efficiency and the accuracy of the platforms are impacted. HR should be careful and have a more planned approach before adopting any new technology. The first thing they should address is what problem are they trying to solve or what opportunity they are trying to identify. And then access what data will help them seek this answer. And then the next questions would be where will you find this data from and how will you capture it. The HR, therefore, needs to put more focus on how complete is the data. 

While choosing or buying HR Tech solutions, what should HR and business leaders keep in mind? 

Firstly, they should not worry much about the algorithms but focus more on the preparedness of data. Most of the vendors use different algorithms or combination of algorithms. And the algorithms are usually complete but the weakness comes incompleteness of data set. So take care of that before purchasing any solution.


Secondly, ask the vendors to give you extremely solid references, and not just of the model they developed but also how their customers utilized it with results the client achieved. You know the algorithm works if it generates the desired outcome. Right now there are a lot of people claiming that they use machine learning well, but to ensure whether they are actually doing that or not you should approach them with a high level of skepticism.

How can HR be prepared for the future of HR Tech?

I think there are a couple of things HR can do to keep up with the pace of rapid technological changes. From a human perspective, HR needs to help the employees become more change ready. As the expectations and requirements are changing, the way they work changes, the way they consume training changes. In fact, even the organizations' structure gets impacted. So the responsibility of HR will be to influence how employees interact with each other and with the managers in the organization.

The second aspect is that ever since the invention of the smartphone, we have stopped talking about work-life balance because on smartphone work and life intertwine. So again from HR perspective, it’s crucial what policies they bring in to draw the line between employees’ work life and personal life. So, there are a lot of cultural aspects where HR has to take care of for helping employees keep up with the rapid changes.

Then in order to be able to consume the changes, HR should be open to experimenting with new age technologies. They can try the thing on a small scale and test the solutions by running pilots, and then measure the value and assess if they are helping achieve the required outcome. Earlier it was difficult to experiment on a small scale because ERP systems required massive installations but now organizations have the opportunity to test any change at a small scale before adopting it for the entire organization. 

I think if HR can build the competency at the time of experimentation, they can also better assess the technologies before they commit to them. 


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Topics: HR Analytics, Technology

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